The American dream for many of us included a pool in the backyard.
It was at the top of Charlene Endsley’s dreams as well. Charlene is a successful business owner in St. Louis, Mo. who finally achieved her dream of having a home and wanted to take it a step further by building a pool. She is a practical woman and decided to choose a vinyl liner pool instead of something more expensive like Gunite.
I interviewed Charlene for this article and she was extremely helpful in providing tips for those wanting to get their first pool built.
#1 Quickly Get Over The Price “Shock”
I placed this at the top of the list because after talking with Charlene. We both concluded that any issues she had with her pool came after the quote from a pool builder.
“I wasn’t prepared for a Vinyl-Liner Pool to be so expensive. When I initially got the quote from the pool builder, I was shocked. I remember thinking, this can’t be right. Are they trying to get one over on me?
If I had to go back, I would have taken time to understand the quote a little bit better and to realize that my expectations of the cost were wrong and not the quoted price.”
My tip here for everyone is to understand that pools are a luxury item and they are not cheap. The manual labor, machine costs, expertise, materials, etc. just add up quickly when you take on a large project like a pool. Even if it’s a cheaper pool like Vinyl-Liner or Fiberglass. These are cheaper than Gunite pools, yes, but in the scheme of things they aren’t cheap.
If you aren’t in a place like Florida, California, or Texas you can expect $50,000-$60,000 minimum for an inground pool. This would be a bare-bones pool without many features.
#2 Do not attempt to DIY
I love Charlene’s story so much because she is a woman who will overcome obstacles. She didn’t like the price so she decided to go the Do-It-Yourself route. She has an extremely intelligent uncle who is an Engineer that offered to build the pool for a lot less. After all, it’s a Vinyl-Liner pool that comes as a kit. How hard can it be?
As it turns out, it’s extremely hard.
“My Uncle really did the best he could but having someone who wasn’t a pool builder start the project was a huge mistake. If you are thinking about DIY, you better have a crew of people, your own machines, and knowledge. If you don’t, you are in for a nightmare.
There were a mess of problems including rental machines breaking down, plans not being followed, and just a lot of mistakes that end up costing more money than I was originally quoted and a finished pool with problems.“
All of the money she was hoping to save by having her Uncle build the pool ended up going down the drain.
The last part of the project had to be finished by a pool builder to correct mistakes and salvage the project. It was an expensive lesson for Charlene and I hope her lesson helps anyone out there who is considering trying to build a pool on their own.
#3 Have an Engineer Inspect Your Dirt and Yard
There is a lot more to a pool than just digging a hole in the ground, setting up your kit, and then getting to swimming. Everyone’s yard is different and the makeup of your soil can be extremely variable. Pool experts know this and they take that into account when placing your pool in the ground.
But, you should have an Engineer on your project who inspects the yard and gives clear instructions on how viable your soil is for your pool.
“Unfortunately, the recommendation by the engineer who checked our yard and ground water situation was ignored or forgotten during the pool build. This is a very serious issue for me as I can already see some floating on my liner.
If the liner floats too much it risks tearing and needing to be replaced.
The walls on my pool are also leaning in. My uncle had no experience with doing this type of work. Since the dirt around and underneath the pool wasn’t made more viable with rock the pool is now tilted after the ground settled.”
Talk about all of this at length with your Engineer and Pool Builder. Be sure everyone is on the same page and that you also understand clearly what needs to be done on the project.
#4 Plan for Proper Drainage
The same engineer who inspects the soil will also make recommendations for how to pitch the pool correctly to allow for proper groundwater to prevent groundwater from building up.
This is another reason that Charlene’s liner is floating, by ignoring the recommendations from the engineer, the pool has groundwater building up around it causing problems for the pool and her yard.
It’s possible that sump pumps and french drains are needed and this will be a recommendation from the engineer that you and your pool builder must discuss and budget for!
#5 Choose your Pool Builder with your Gut Instincts
This is huge and can not be overstated. When taking on a massive and expensive project that is a one-way ticket that can’t be undone, you want to be making that commitment with someone you like, respect, and trust.
“I think in my gut, I knew that I should have just gone with the pool builder who gave me the first quote for my pool. I really liked him, he had great references, and I could just tell he knew what needed to be done. That price shock though just got me overly emotional about the money it cost and I chose to go with my Uncle. As it turned out, I had to go back to the original pool builder to finish the project anyway.
My recommendation for anyone looking at their pool builder is don’t always go for the cheapest price, do your homework on BBB, online reviews, and references if you can. And of course, go with your gut. This is stuff we all know, but you should also ask the question…. Who can you see yourself working through a problem with? Because there will be problems.”
I do love what Charlene had to say about this. I think going with your gut is the right decision. Maybe the guy you like has fewer reviews but there is just something about him that you trust. Or you feel they might be patient in dealing with your questions and inquiries during the build.
Whatever the reason is, I think you have to put a lot of weight on that part of your decision when choosing your pool builder.
#6 Have One Builder or Contract Do it All
Since Charlene originally started the project with her Uncle, She had to piece together different contracts to complete the pool. The contractor she used for the pool decking had a lot of experience with concrete but had no experience with pool decking.
The decking itself has some bubbles and cracking but her biggest complaint is the messy concrete around her coping.
I think anyone taking on a pool project at their home needs to find a pool builder who is going to handle all of the builds using their team or their contractors. The average person just doesn’t have enough knowledge about the nuance involved to choose the right contractors to piece together a project this important.
#7 Get a Clear Scope of all your costs before you Finance
This is a great tip from Charlene. There are more costs involved in your pool build that go beyond the scope of the quote you get from your pool builder. How about landscaping after the project is finished?
She had more to add about the financing for your pool as well.
“Personally, I wish I could have saved enough money to put a large down payment on the pool and only financed part of it. Also, you might be able to negotiate the price a bit with the pool builder if you have a large down payment ready to go.
I recommend financing with a credit union and not a pool loan servicer. The interest will be high and you’ll be paying triple for your pool.”
#8 Study the Pool Plan before construction
This will take a bit of dedication to understanding the pool plan if you aren’t mechanically inclined but extremely important. I would highly recommend hitting your yard with a tape measure so that you have a visualization of the layout before construction even starts.
Charlene’s pool was built a bit too close to her home’s existing backyard steps and she felt like it was wrong. She did mention something at the time, but because she didn’t study the plan enough she didn’t have the confidence to halt the project and demand everyone take a second look at what was going on.
If you are paying tens of thousands of dollars for your dream pool, it isn’t too much to ask that you can ensure that everything is going smoothly and to plan. Of course, you aren’t an expert and should trust your builder but do not be timid about raising your concerns and having everything broken down for you.
#9 Size and Depth, Think about who is using the pool.
Some people say you can’t go too big with a pool. And actually, the size of the pool itself doesn’t shift costs too much one way or the other. Many people could sacrifice a feature or two and get a lot more swimming area out of their pool.
“If I could do it again, I would have chose a pool style with more of a shallow end. More area for walking around and just relaxing. My pool now the kids can’t play volley ball, chicken, or basketball because the pool just gets too deep too quick.
The deep end is still great though for jumping and diving but it’s a shame my kids miss out on those other water games I loved playing as kid.
Consider what your pool is going to be used for mostly. What pool activities are most important. Who are you really building the pool for? Yourself? Family? Possibly small children when your kids start to have children of their own?”
I’ve heard this same comment from my father too. He builds a lot of pools every year and he believes pool owners should consider a bit more shallow end to their pool.
I think having a majority of your pool in the 4′-5′ foot area is a good depth.
#10 Don’t Go Cheap on your Liner or Finish
I believe the title here really says it all. When budgeting out your pool you want to have a thick and reliable liner. On a Gunite pool, you want a finish that is going to look beautiful but also feel good on your feet and skin.
If you go cheap, you’ll probably find yourself buying a new liner or rehabbing your pool finish before you know it.
#11 Get at least 1 Pool Feature
Since Charlene’s pool ended up costing her even more than her original quote she just didn’t have the extra money to add on any pool features when it came time for her decking.
“I really do wish I had the money to do some features on the pool. Even a simple set of deck jets would have been nice for us. Sitting by the pool at night, it would be great to hear some ambience from the trickling of the water.”
Pool Features increase the budget of a pool quickly but it’s difficult to add anything after a pool and the surrounding decking have already been built.
If you want something simple for a little bit of added sound at night you can check out Deck Jets or Laminars. I have a blog post written here about, “How much are Deck Jets and Laminars?” This will give you an idea of how much you might have to add to your budget for this simple feature.
#12 More Lights are Better than Less
Lighting up your pool at night with cool lighting just can’t be beaten. When you decide on your pool lighting, consider adding some additional lights.
If you are going for a less expensive pool with fewer features, the light-changing LED lights will give you some bang for your buck.
#13 Deck Size Matters, Don’t Go Small
The truth hurts and deck size does matter!
“Bigger is better here. I am happy that we did get a bigger sized deck around the pool.
If I could go back, I would actually ask to see the price for an even bigger deck to see if we could have squeezed in some extra square footage.
I also do wish I would have been able to afford something a bit more decorative and slip resistant.
My recommendation for anyone is that you better try as hard as you can to get what you want.. Once you settle there is no changing the deck.
It really does become the gathering place for friends and family around the pool. You want everyone to be comfortable and safe.”
#14 Budget for some Landscaping
We mentioned this a bit before when talking about financing your pool. Your yard is going to get wrecked when the pool gets built. You’ll have to probably spend a pretty penny to get it fixed again but now you also have a huge pool and deck in your backyard.
I highly recommend for someone have a landscaper look at your pool plan with you and talk about what options you might be able to afford to make the area around your pool and deck beautiful. If you can get an idea of what that would cost you would be able to plan for it in your original financing.
#15 Do Research about your Pool Plumbing
Luckily, Charlene and her Husband own their own waste service company and have a lot of experience with plumbing so they didn’t have any issues at all.
I think the average homeowner doesn’t know a ton about pool plumbing though. You should research and understand how your plumbing is laid out and how the equipment is operated.
A huge tip here though! If you are getting features onto your pool, it has been highly recommended that you get a separate pump for your pool features that will allow you to control just your features separately from the main pool lines.
Also, consider splurging for pool equipment that can be operated from your smartphone. This easy option might be worth every penny for some people!
#16 Don’t forget about Fencing and Budget for it
By Law, you are most likely going to surround your pool with a fence. There are different ordinances all around America, Europe, and the world but in my experience, nearly every pool I have seen has had to have a fence around it.
The unfortunate part about that fences can be costly. You’ll need to do your homework here because these rules and regulations regarding fences can be different from county to county.
“Right now, it’s extremely expensive to get a fence put in for your pool. Our fence had to be a certain height, certain type of fence, and a certain type of lock in order to comply with the regulations of our county.
I recommend that you do your homework on a fencing company and their online reviews. Fencing off your yard for the first time can be really painful and costly if done wrong.
We had issues with our neighbors fence being partially on our property and it became a whole thing we had to deal with but luckly our fence company was awesome. They helped us out a ton.”
#17 Ask your HOA and Check City Regulations in the beginning
This list wasn’t created in order chronologically so even though this is the last thing on the list. It’s probably the very first thing you should do.
If you live in a neighborhood, you probably have to ask permission to build your pool and check out any by-laws that regulate how you can have your pool built.
There are also city regulations so you’ll want to check in with your local government to check for limitations on your build.
Even though Charlene spent more money than she would have if she had taken the pool builder’s original quote, had to overcome many obstacles, and has issues with the quality of her pool build, she is still delighted to have her pool! It’s a great place for family and friends to meet together during the summer and an excellent place for her to relieve stress at night.